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“Fundamental Values And Norms”: The Media Have Reached A Turning Point In Covering Donald Trump. He May Not Survive It

The news media have come in for a lot of criticism in the way they’ve reported this election, which makes it exactly like every other election. But something may have changed just in the last few days. I have no idea how meaningful it will turn out to be or how long it will last.

But it’s possible that when we look back over the sweep of this most unusual campaign, we’ll mark this week as a significant turning point: the time when journalists finally figured out how to cover Donald Trump.

They didn’t do it by coming up with some new model of coverage, or putting aside what they were taught in journalism school. They’re doing it by rediscovering the fundamental values and norms that are supposed to guide their profession. (And for the record, even though I’m part of “the media” I’m speaking in the third person here because I’m an opinion writer, and this is about the reporters whose job it is to objectively relay the events of the day).

If this evolution in coverage takes hold, we can trace it to the combined effect of a few events and developments happening in a short amount of time. The first was Trump’s press conference on Tuesday, the ostensible purpose of which was to answer questions about a fundraiser he held in January to raise money for veterans’ groups. In the course of the press conference, Trump was at his petulant, abusive worst, attacking reporters in general and those in the room. “The political press is among the most dishonest people that I’ve ever met,” he said, saying to one journalist who had asked a perfectly reasonable question, “You’re a sleaze.” These kinds of criticisms are not new — anyone who has reported a Trump rally can tell you how Trump always tosses some insults at the press, at which point his supporters turn around and hurl their own abuse at those covering the event — but Trump seemed particularly angry and unsettled.

To see how the press looked at that revealing event, it’s critical to understand what led to it. It happened because the Post’s David Fahrenthold and some other reporters did what journalists are supposed to do. They raised questions about Trump’s fundraiser, and when they didn’t get adequate answers, they investigated, gathered facts, and asked more questions.

It was excellent work — time-consuming, difficult, and ultimately paying dividends in public understanding. And Trump’s attack on them for doing their jobs the way those jobs are supposed to be done couldn’t have been better designed to get every other journalist to want to do the same. They’re no different than anyone else: When you make a direct attack on their professionalism, they’re likely to react by reaching back to their profession’s core values to demonstrate that they can live up to them. Trump may have wanted to intimidate them, but it’s likely to have the opposite effect.

The same day as the press conference, a trove of documents from Trump University was released as part of a class-action lawsuit accusing Trump of fraud. The documents revealed allegations as to just what a scam that enterprise was: high-pressure sales tactics, nothing resembling knowledge being imparted to the “students,” people in financial trouble preyed upon and told to max out their credit cards to pay for more seminars and courses. Some of Trump’s other schemes may have been comical, but as far as we know nobody was victimized too terribly by buying a Trump Steak or a bottle of Trump Vodka. Trump University is something entirely different, and it’s not over yet; questions are now being raised about an investigation the Texas Attorney General’s office undertook of Trump University, which concluded that it was cheating Texans out of large sums of money; the investigation was dropped by then-AG Greg Abbott, who later got $35,000 in contributions from Trump and is now the state’s governor.

Plenty of presidential candidates have had shady doings in their pasts, but can you think of anything that compares to Trump University? A party’s nominee allegedly running a con not just on unsuspecting victims, but on victims specifically chosen for their vulnerability and desperation? It’s no wonder that you can’t find any Republicans who’ll defend it, in a time when ordinarily you can get a partisan hack to justify almost anything their party’s leader is doing or has done.

Then you had Trump’s continued attacks on the judge presiding over that fraud case. It’s unusual enough for a presidential candidate to be publicly attacking a judge in a case he’s involved in, but what’s most appalling is the blatant bigotry at the basis of Trump’s criticisms. First Trump would simply say that in addition to being biased against him the judge is “Mexican” (which is false — the judge was born in Indiana). Now Trump says that because the judge is “of Mexican heritage” he should be removed from the case. “I’m building a wall. It’s an inherent conflict of interest,” he says. Given all the other demographic groups Trump has insulted and offended, the natural conclusion would seem to be that only white male judges are fit to preside over Trump’s many, many lawsuits.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, June 3, 2016

June 6, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Journalists, News Media | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Hillary Clinton Has Only One Real Opponent”: You Guessed It, That Leaves The News Media

In a sane world, the 2016 presidential election campaign would begin about this time next year. However, the political infotainment wing of our esteemed national news media seems intent upon starting the contest ever earlier — whether voters like it or not. TV ratings and enhanced career opportunities depend upon it.

Unfortunately, Dan Merica, a CNN producer who followed Hillary Clinton to South Carolina, appears to have mislaid the script. Instead of shouting rude questions, Merica sought out an ordinary voter Clinton had chatted up in a bake shop. What had they talked about?

As it happened, they had discussed Corinthians 13: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.”

A Baptist minister, Rev. Frederick Donnie Hunt had been sitting in a Columbia, South Carolina bakery reading his Bible when Clinton stopped by. “I was impressed and glad that she knew the Scripture that I was reading and studying…,” Hunt said. “It impressed me that someone running for president has that background. It is important to me that we have a president that has some belief.”

Rev. Hunt, who voted for Obama in 2008, now plans to support Clinton. “God bless you,” he told the candidate as she got up to leave.

Make of it what you will. But if you’re like me, you learned something interesting from the CNN story. Too many like it, however, and Merica’s career in Washington could be endangered.

According to a recent “political memo” by Jason Horowitz in The New York Times, Clinton’s Democratic rivals have no realistic chance. “That leaves the news media,” he opines, “as her only real opponent so far on the way to the Democratic presidential nomination.”

Well, it does have the virtue of honesty.

To be fair, Horowitz’s point is that the press clique has grown so hostile that “it makes all the political sense in the world for Mrs. Clinton to ignore them.”

He describes scenes in which reporters, bored and angered by Clinton’s strategy of traveling around and talking with nobodies like Rev. Hunt, have treated her rare press availabilities as virtual bear-baiting exercises, shouting questions of the when-did-you-stop-looting-your-foundation? kind, questions she “obfuscated…with ease,” according to Horowitz.

He provides no examples though. Readers have to take his word for it. In this carnival-like atmosphere, he adds, “it is not clear what Mrs. Clinton gains politically from playing the freak.”

Yowza!

Prompted by reader outrage, Times public editor Margaret Sullivan expressed chagrin at her newspaper’s “sometimes-fawning, sometimes-derisive tone in stories about Mrs. Clinton,” particularly that last “startling line.”

Times editors were characteristically dismissive, arguing readers had misunderstood the author’s meaning — as if it were a T.S. Eliot poem rather than a newspaper story. Believe me, I’ve been there. No matter how dead to rights you’ve got them, they’re The New York Times, and you’re not. It’s like arguing with a bishop.

A reader comment by Paul Goode of Richmond put everything in perspective: “It’s never a good strategy to patronize readers. And don’t make it worse by peddling self-interest as a profile in courage. The Horowitz piece was not only invidious; it was a not-so-veiled threat about what Ms. Clinton can expect if she doesn’t get in line.”

“Can expect”? How Clinton handles the never-ending barrage of gossip and contumely directed against her and Bill Clinton by the Washington media clique could decide the 2016 election. The Times itself, Bob Somerby notes, has all but openly declared war, and The Washington Post isn’t far behind.

Last Sunday the Times printed a 2,200-word opus by Deborah Sontag about Bill Clinton’s appearance at a fundraiser for Czech model Petra Němcová’s Happy Hearts Fund; the piece must have set a world record for fact-free insinuation.

A one-time Sports Illustrated cover girl, Němcová started her charity, which supports Third World kindergartens, after a near-death experience in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Clinton spoke at Němcová’s event in exchange for a $500,000 donation to the Clinton Foundation, which was to be spent on a joint project building schools in Haiti.

Since Němcová doubtless looks a lot better in a bathing suit than anybody in the Times’ Washington bureau, you can probably guess what the insinuations were. Sontag even found a Columbia professor who pronounced the event “distasteful,” without saying why.

Forgetting about Ronald Reagan’s $2 million speaking fees, Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus (a Hillary Clinton fan, she claims) nevertheless uses the Yiddish word chazer to describe her. “It means ‘pig,’” she explains, “but has a specific connotation of piggishness and gluttony. This is a chronic affliction of the Clintons.”

This is what Clinton is up against. Her opponents could call for abolishing Social Security and appointing Jim Bob Duggar to the Supreme Court, and the character assassination would never end. Everybody knows the script: “Hillary’s what my sainted mother would have called a false article, insincere, untrustworthy, out for herself and nobody else. She thinks she’s better than you.”

Anyway, people always say they hate this stuff, but then they pass it on.

 

By: Gene Lyons, The National Memo, June 3, 2014

June 4, 2015 Posted by | Election 2016, Hillary Clinton, News Media | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

   

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